Black, Lowry, and Ortega set to lead a talented group of freshmen for Iowa volleyball

Black, Lowry, and Ortega all started Saturday against Purdue. Each carried a team-high in kills, assists, or digs.


Casey Stone

Iowa outside hitter Audrey Black and Iowa setter Bailey Ortega high five one another during the Iowa Volleyball season opener game against Illinois on Jan. 22, 2021 at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. Illinois defeated Iowa 3-1.

Will Fineman, Sports Reporter

Youth is the theme for the Iowa volleyball team this season, as the Hawkeyes carry a roster with no seniors, four juniors, six sophomores, and six freshmen.

With Courtney Buzzerio playing an expanded role as both a setter and an outside hitter for the Hawkeyes and Kyndra Hansen dealing with a nagging injury from last year, Iowa head coach Vicki Brown turned to freshman Audrey Black as a focal point of the team’s offense.

Black led the team in kills in both matches against Purdue with nine on Friday and 10 on Saturday and attack attempts with 33 on Friday and 31 on Saturday. Her start against Purdue on Saturday was the first as a Hawkeye.

“Just being a freshman, I kinda was like ‘Whatever happens, happens,’ and I could just go for it because nobody really knows who I am yet,” Black said. “I wanted to present myself in a way that would help my team out.”

Purdue has a very strong frontcourt between senior outside hitter Caitlyn Newton and junior middle blocker Jael Johnson that was able to get a hand on a lot of Black’s attack attempts, but Black said the coaches told her to just keep swinging.

“We told Audrey, ‘If you see it, go for it,’ just swing away, figure it out, and get used to seeing that block because as a freshman on the outside, you just have to go for it,” Brown said. “Did she get blocked sometimes? Yeah, but then we would go to her again, and she would find her way.”

In her first two games against Illinois, the 6-foot-3-inch freshmen had 36 total attack attempts, a number she almost matched on Friday alone.

While she is currently second in kills for the Hawkeyes, Black also leads the team in attacking errors and carries a .070 hitting percentage.

Black said she is just going to keep swinging, be smart with her shots, and hopefully get more kills.

“Audrey has a really unique kind of swing,” Brown said. “It’s a heavy swing but it’s at a high contact point, so she is a unique attacker.”

The freshman outside hitter is one of the new faces of the strategy that Brown has used dating back to last season which is getting the freshmen involved early and often.

The Hawkeyes started three freshmen on Saturday with setter Bailey Ortega and libero Leanne Lowry playing alongside Black.

While the team was not able to come away with a win, all three players seemed unphased by their lack of experience.

“Now that we have had that opportunity, we know that opportunity will continue to be available for us,” Ortega said. “So, if we keep working and we keep pushing and keep grinding throughout all of the things we have to do as a volleyball player, I think that we will continue to show the coaches that we deserve to be on the floor.”

Lowry’s first start for the Hawkeyes was years in the making, as she committed to the University of Iowa back in 2016.

The Castle Rock, Colorado, native wasted no time becoming a team leader as she tallied a career-high and a team-high 13 digs on Saturday.

“[The freshmen] have already made such a big impact,” Lowry said. “I think we will continue doing that the rest of our years here and I think we will actually make quite a change in this program.”

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